Going against an ingrained consumer culture
If you live in the suburbs in the US, statistics will tell you that you will see 5,000 advertisements every single day. One million by the time you reach the age of 21. Advertisers have the same essential message “We will be happier if we buy what they are selling.” Since we hear this message so many times and in so many ways, we begin to believe it.
For Pastor turned Minimalist, Joshua Becker describes the discontent he felt immersed in a materialist culture. As a Christian, searching the Scriptures, he was always uncomfortable with the way he spent his money. Although never in deep consumer debt, like 70% of Americans, he and his wife lived paycheck to paycheck even though he experienced many job promotions and pay rises.
In his honest moments, Joshua was conflicted in how he was spending his life’s energy and pursuits. He would read what Jesus would say about money, living generously and taking care of the poor and believed it to be a good thing. But examining how he was living and what God was asking of him proved to be too difficult to reconcile in his mind. Joshua reflects:
“There was always this little discontent that I was spending too much time working, spending and accumulating. While I couldn’t express it at the time, I thought I was spending too much on my own needs and giving such a little percentage to those who have nothing.”
A memorial weekend
Joshua Becker’s curiosity towards a minimalist lifestyle began 7 years ago on a Memorial weekend in Vermont, where a plan to clean the garage with the help of his 5 year old son was quickly derailed. After working away from home the whole week he thought it would be a great way to spend some quality time together. He can now see the absurdity of the idea: “What was I thinking that my son would want to spend his Saturday cleaning the garage!”
The plan was to take everything out of the garage, hose it down, then return everything in an organised fashion ready for Spring. Soon after commencing the big clean up, Joshua recalls his son Sam running off to play in the backyard after discovering two boxes of toys he hadn’t seen all winter.
It was a conversation with Joshua’s elderly neighbour, June who while trimming her hedges watched as Joshua took out all the clutter from his garage, observing “The joy of owning a home.” Joshua responded with a phrase he had seen on bumper stickers:
“The more stuff you own, the more the stuff owns you.”
“Yeah, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”
“I had a sudden realisation that not only were all these material possessions not bringing me happiness, they were distracting me from the very thing that did bring me joy and purpose – my son!”
We start the journey
Something needed to change. Joshua went back into his house by googling “Minimalist lifestyle” and found a host of stories of people who have chosen to live with less and in return found more fulfilment. Although all the journeys were unique, Joshua noted that the common thread was that minimalism helped people to live with more intentionality.
“My family and I began donating, recycling, and removing our unnecessary personal possessions. We embarked on an intentional journey to own less stuff.”
After diligently going through room to room to our home, the Beckers removed about 60-70% of their stuff. Their uniquely rational minimalism journey had begun!
A blog is launched
To keep track of our minimalist lifestyle, Joshua keeps a blog called Becoming Minimalist. As many people in the West are grappling with how to live a more spiritual and uncluttered life, the viewership has steadily increased reaching over 1 million people every single month. One of the recurring themes of the website is highlighting the benefits of having less possessions.
When Joshua teaches on the subject of minimalism, he frequently ask audiences the question:
If you owned less stuff, how would your life improve?
- Some typical responses to this question include:
“Less time cleaning, maintaining and organising.”
- “We discover more money to do things we really want to do with our time and our lives and get out of debt quicker.”
- “Less time working, to make the money to go shopping to bring things we don’t need to manage and maintain.”
- “Better for the environment.”
- “Allows us to become more generous with our money.”
- “We find greater contentment with our lives.”
- “More opportunities to pursue our greatest passions.”
Conducting this exercise, makes it more clear to audiences that every increased possession adds more worry to our lives. Joshua thinks it’s important for Christians to honestly ask whether a lifestyle of spending, accumulating and taking care of the things that we own is resulting in us neglecting the more important things of life: faith, family, friends?
What does the bible say about our relationship to possessions?
The New Testament warns a lot about laying treasures on the earth. After a few months into the Becker’s journey, Joshua started to wonder why no one had ever told him it was better to own less and not keep accumulating more. In a moment of revelation Joshua realised this is not a new message, this is ancient wisdom: Get rid of the things you don’t need so you can live an abundant life in God.
Joshua would read what Jesus said about giving away possessions and being generous and I used to think “Jesus wants my life to be miserable.” But we don’t think this way with anything else Jesus says so why do we think this way when it comes to money and owning stuff?
There were two passages in the Bible Joshua reflected on more as he went deeper into his minimalism journey. The first one is in Luke 3:10-13 where John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus and His Kingdom. In response to the crowds asking how they should prepare for Jesus, for God to be with them, John answers by saying:
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
About Joshua Becker
Joshua Becker is the WSJ Best-Selling author of The More of Less and The Minimalist Home. He has appeared on numerous media outlets including The NYT, WSJ, USA Today, and CBS.